A view of Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem. Credit: Shalom Yechiel.

A view of Givat Hamatos in Jerusalem. Credit: Shalom Yechiel.

(JNS.org) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected U.S. government criticism of an Israeli construction plan in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Givat Hamatos.

“I think [the Obama administration] should be acquainted with the facts first,” Netanyahu said in a NBC News interview with Andrea Mitchell in New York, after returning there from Washington, DC, where he had met with U.S. President Barack Obama earlier in the day. “You know? First of all, these are not settlements. These are neighborhoods of Jerusalem. We have Arab neighborhoods and we have Jewish neighborhoods.”

In response to reports on Wednesday of the publication of a plan, already approved by the Jerusalem Municipality two years ago, to construct 2,500 residential units in Givat Hamatos, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “The United States is deeply concerned by reports that the Israeli government has moved forward with the planning process in a sensitive area of east Jerusalem.”

“This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies, poison the atmosphere, not only with the Palestinians but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations,” said Earnest, who also called the Israeli construction plan “provocative.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki issued a similar statement, saying that going ahead with the construction would “call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.”

The Orthodox Union (OU) on Thursday said it rejects the “harsh statements by the Obama administration” on Israeli construction.

“First, [the administration’s statements] suggest that the onus for the peace process impasse is upon Israel, when in fact it is decades of Palestinian and Arab rejectionism and incitement (such as that voiced by Palestinian President Abbas at the U.N. General Assembly last week) that ‘poisons the atmosphere’ for peace,” said Nathan Diament, the OU’s executive director for public policy. “Israel has demonstrated its interest in peace, not merely through words but through deeds, time and again.”

“Second, suggesting that Jews residing in neighborhoods of Jerusalem–the historic capital of Israel and the Jewish people–is ‘provocative’ is offensive,” Diament continued. “It is also fundamentally at odds with the notion that differences over Jerusalem are to be resolved in negotiations. … Finally, the implied threat that Jewish residence in Jerusalem will ‘distance Israel from even its closest allis’–i.e.: the United States–is a resort to rhetoric which is entirely unacceptable.”

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